Friday, September 19, 2014

Modesty is not Prudishness

In a culture where humor is so often reduced to a crass lowest common denominator–sexual double entendre or adolescent innuendo about body parts–it can be hard for a Christian to know exactly how to respond.  To what extent should we go along with such humor in our entertainment or conversation?  We don’t want to seem prudish to friends and family and coworkers and neighbors.  On the other hand, the topic of human sexuality and morality is not something to treat lightly or unseriously. 

Prudes are wrong in their approach not because they’re against sexual sin, but because they tend to look at sexuality as something that is inherently tainted and sullied by its sensual nature, necessary perhaps for procreation, but something that is far too fleshly and physical to be considered good or godly.  Their attitude doesn’t reflect a belief that human sexuality is a good gift of the Creator, that He is the One who made the one flesh, physical, sexual relationship from the very beginning, before sin ever entered into the world.  They fail to recognize fully that sexuality and sexual activity is a gift to be received and enjoyed within marriage by husband and wife, for their mutual delight and companionship, and for the creation of new human life where God grants it. 

Those on the other end of the spectrum who engage in raunchy humor really have the same problem as prudes.  The raunchy also fail to treat human sexuality as a gift of God.  They diminish it with their humor and treat it merely as a commodity to be manipulated for their own pleasure.  They revel in the fallen world’s caricature of sexuality, in the enjoyment of the misuse of God’s gift.  Human sexuality is not treated as something special and divinely given but merely as an expression of lustful desire.  In the end, by rejecting the goodness of God’s gift, both the prudish and the raunchy commit the very same error.

The attitude of the Christian, then, toward human sexuality is a glad modesty.  On the one hand, crude joking is rejected because it isn’t in keeping with the goodness of the gift God has given.  “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4).  On the other hand, the sexual relationship within marriage is never treated as something to feel guilty or embarrassed about, since God Himself is the One who joined the husband and wife together and placed them in this relationship (Matthew 19:6).  Scripture even says things that will make some blush.  “Rejoice with the wife of your youth. . . Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19).  The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is full of positive sexual references.

1 Peter 3:3-4 speaks with regard to women about this modest approach:  “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  1 Timothy 1:8-10 speaks of “propriety and moderation.”  And Proverbs 31:30 teaches, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”  Such modesty in behavior and dress is certainly also to be reflected in a person’s speech and choices in entertainment.

This, of course, applies equally and perhaps even more so to men, whose task it is not to use women for their own pleasure but to lead a life of self-sacrifice and self-giving for them.  This now quaint notion of manliness and gentlemanliness was reflected in the old, traditional marital vows (which have been restored to some degree in our “new” marriage liturgy).  The man says to his bride as he places the ring on her finger: “With this ring I marry you; my worldly goods I give to you, and with my body I honor you.”  Christianity affirms the goodness of the physical aspects of the marital relationship without reducing such things to a juvenile punchline.

And here finally is the most important reason why we wish to treat human sexuality with glad modesty and respect.  The marital relationship is an icon and an image of the nature of God Himself.  The God who is love speaks of creating man in His image precisely at the time when He makes us male and female and gives us to live in the self-giving relationship of marriage (Genesis 1:26-27).  The triad of lover, beloved, and the love that binds them together is a reflection of the Holy Trinity.  The three persons of the Godhead are perfectly united as one in love, even as He reaches out to us in love and self-giving, that we may be joined to Him and share in His divine life.  God is husband to His people (Jeremiah 31:32).  The church is the bride of Christ Jesus.  He loved her and gave Himself up for her to make her holy.  Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies, for the church is the body of Christ.  “The two shall become one flesh.  This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:25-32).  Such mysteries are to be treated with respect and joyful thanksgiving in our bodily speech and conduct.

Modesty in sexual things is not prudishness.  Rather, it is the way of faith, of receiving what is given by our Creator and Redeemer as a good gift.